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Tips for making believable characters:

It doesn't matter if your story characters are from the real world, another planet or another dimension entirely.  They need to be believable and free from Mary-sue syndrome.  So, what does it take to write an interesting character that isn't a sugar cookie or super good lookin emo and still have people fawn over them?  Lets find out.

I will readily admit that most of my characters tend to start out as Mary-sues.  However this is mostly because I haven't gotten to know the character and his/her story well enough.  So what must happen?  I must brainstorm.  Who is he?  What is he?  What main personality trait or flaw would suit him/is best known for?  If he is an animal are there any stereotype qualities that I can use or bend or switch?  Because lets face it, a cat that loves water, hates lazy catnaps and prefers catching lizards over mice will tend to be much more interesting than a cat that hates water, loves to nap and likes mice.  The later isn't wrong but we need to stir things up a bit.

Lets take the latter and call her Kitty Sue.  Kitty Sue is a stereotypical cat.  But perhaps we should give her a reason for being so?  Maybe she hates water because she nearly drowned as Kitten Sue.  Maybe she likes to take a good nap because she needs to get away from the toddlers in the house.  And perhaps she likes eating mice because… well… why does any cat eat mice.  They are yummy and don't taste like chicken as lizards do. (Don't ask how I know this)  Nor to their tails squirm in your mouth after you've killed them.

At times the best thing to do is get detailed.  Some new writers shudder at the word but any experienced writer will tell you that the details, when used in moderation, are the best part of the story.  Your readers are less likely going to go 'aww' over the hero twiddling his fingers nervously unless they know he only does this if he sees his crush.  And you aren't going to pick up the subtle hints such as a chirping noise unless you know that goblins make chirping noises before they spring an attack!


We must also have faults.  The problem with Mary-Sues is they have few or predictable faults.  Mary-Sue is super nice, intelligent, part celestial/supernatural being(or contains one*), has super special abilities that are rare and sometimes die for the sake of all.  Are you all rolling your eyes?  If you aren't, why aren't you?  Is it because this is your character to a tee?

One of my favorite ways to give my characters faults it to look up different phobias, illnesses and, when I'm really stuck, personality generators.  I hate greedy persons so I normally don't think of making one of my characters greedy.  Often it takes a personality generator to remind me that this is a trait that can be used and also used in lesser degrees.  Though both classified under greed, Somone who doesn't like to spend is often more likeable than someone who is willing to hurt to get what he desires.  

The best thing to do here is choose one major fault for your character and at some point in the story, have them fight to overcome it for something.  An example might be an expressionless person communicating with a deaf person.  Facial expressions are a must here.  Or have your thrifty person give money to the injured guy he just rescued from Dr. Evil so he can get some medical attention.  Make them suffer while they are doing it, too (in moderation)

Phobias are fun.  Because we sometimes want to see our characters scream at a spider or a bat… or the moon.  It's funny for those who aren't afraid of them and relatable to those who are.  There is a phobia for everything, so don't be shy about finding one to use.  Illnesses can be fun to work with as well, be they mental, physical or emotional.  Allergies, too.  These can provide for humerous moments.  Take the movie Finding Nemo, by Disney. Who here did not laugh upon finding the seahorse was H2O(water) intolerant.  If you didn't see this, go check it out.

Don't be afraid to make them a little weak, this makes them more relatable.  Also, sometimes, good traits can be bad and bad can be good.  It depends on circumstance.  And never forget about snoring.  A good scene where one person is being kept up by loud snoring is classic fun and hardly ever gets old.

*Naruto syndrome. No he's not 'sue' but stop copying this now overdone character plot/scheme/whatever-you-wanna-callit

Some examples:
Aoiro is a complete coward.  He is afraid of almost everything within reason.  Though this can be annoying for some of the other characters it is also endearing in a way because they all know he is worried over, not just his safety, but theirs as well and typically will work up the nerve to help in some way.

Solece, the lovely character of Shadows-penn, is one of few characters I will squeal at upon seeing a picture of.  The funny thing is: she does this, too.  Why?  To be honest I'm not sure but lets take a good look at him and maybe we'll find something out.

He is a very calm character over all, knowledgeable as well as loving and, perhaps noble would be the best word to describe it.  But is he a Mary-Sue?  Not really.  Why?  Well some things I might leave out due to spoilers but lets delve into the details behind this character that make him uniquely Solece and not your Knight in Shining Armor at all times.

Solece will always be seen wearing gloves.  Who's to know why?  Maybe he is secretly a germiphobe but I doubt that.  Otherwise he'd squeal every time he got blood on him.  He is very neat a tidy and has an astounding posture.  It's even uncomfortable for him to slouch O.O;.   It takes quite a bit for him to snap but when he does… you don't want to be in the same room.  He has been noted to be jealous on occasion.  Solece is a Gardener and often a wallflower at parties, pun intended.  He talks to formally, even to friends and occasionally blames himself for bad things happening.  Without me being nice, I'm going to say he attracts trouble and needs to loosen up.  He is rather uptight.

So considering all these things, If I were to meet him in real life and not know who he was, he'd be rather intimidating.  Tall and formal, I don't think he'd be someone I'd warm up to instantly and his usage of large words can be annoying and adds to the intimidation factor.  He could be taken for stuck up or snobbish.

(If Shadows-penn would like to add a few things I'm missing then by all means do so.)

If you happen to be stuck finding a flaw for your character, look up lists of character flaws.  There are lots of them out there for us writers to use.  Knock 'em dead.  I've even found some wonderful tutorials for crafting a good villain.  RPG help sites are often good for charater development ideas as well so don't limit yourself to just writing help websites.  Even Psychology websites can help.  Explore and find stuff!


Of course, what more could drive us crazy about our best friend than the fact he/she is constantly doing something we find annoying.  It could be whistling, biting finger nails, talking fast/stuttering, twiddling fingers, humming, clicking that god forsaken pen, twirling her hair or foot/finger tapping.  I for one don't like people interrupting but I have to put up with it when in conversations.  I also pick at my nails and crack my fingers a lot.

Ticks are those unconscious movements we do in reaction to a situation or when we are idle.  Everyone has them but a lot of the time we don't pay attention to them.  I remember a story where the only way the detective found the person who was impersonating someone, was that she mimicked the person's tick but with the wrong hand.  Again, details.

Mateo is a musician and his fingers are often moving as if he were playing the piano.

Fighting characters often reach for weapons when they feel uneasy.


One of my favorite things to see in a character is when they keep things with them all the time.  Why they do this could have many reasons.  Maybe they keep a knife on them for protection.  Even better if that knife is an heir loom or given to them by their friend/family member who saw them off/was killed by the villain.  Perhaps they keep a dictionary handy for all those people talking nonsense with big words.

Whatever the case is, items stuffed into 'pockets' are very handy to have.  And it doesn't have to be a pocket.  Perhaps they always wear one necklace or their 'pocket' item is on their belt or in their purse.  Again this is all details and varies character to character.  This could even be turned into a flaw we like to call 'hoarding' which many dragons seem to suffer from.


Miyako is a wonderful example of someone who keeps little trinkets on her person.  In a little bag she carries, she has various memorabilia stored, often in the form of small items that were given to her by someone or reminds her of someone.  Her reason for keeping them is because she doesn't want to risk forgetting about them.


This could be anything and is rather straightforward.  What does your character like to do in his/her spare time?  Does he enjoy torturing and skinning squirrels, digging holes, building forts in trees or mythical creature hunting?  The possibilities are endless especially if you are working with your own made up universe.  You might even find your characters traviking* meagldwarps**

*insert definition here.
**insert random creature/race here.


We all have favorites.  Music, colors, foods, clothing, animals, plants, furniture, houses, vehicles*, and, yes, even curses if we use them.  It is a good thing to have in mind what your character likes, even if you don't plan on using it.  You never know if you might.  Your swordfighter guy might just walk past a clothing store and see that puffy sleeved shirt he just must have for his cool pirate-esk style.

The same applies for dislikes.  And it doesn't hurt to have a few secret likes and dislikes either.  It adds depth and sometimes humor to your stories.  After all, no one really expects your Macho shark anthro to like little Pomeranian puppies and he probably doesn't want the general public to know this, either.  But it's great for a good giggle and 'aww' moment for your readers when they see Macho Shark making googly eyes and odd baby noises at a puppy dog.

*Spaceships and Horse & buggy included.


Very briefly touched on in ticks, the way a character talks can reveal much about who they are or where they are from.  After all, can we not tell a person we've seen a lot merely by their voice or vocal patterns.  I know someone who uses the word interesting a lot, especially when sharing something he discovered.  Usually in the phrase 'Interesting, isn't it?"

Some people talk slow, perhaps because they themselves are 'slow' or don't know the language too well.  If they don't know the language, make them stumble grammatically.  On the opposite end of the spectrum we have those who talk quickly.  Often these are excitable characters or nervous ones or maybe a bit of both.

Accents are handy too.  If your cowboy doesn't greet people by saying 'Howdy 'yall' your readers might think something is wrong with him… or you, the writer.  Other language accents can be a little harder and sometimes must be described with the speech pattern rather than typed out every time the person talks.  It is very hard to translate a Chinese accent into writing.  I've tried.

Phrases your character says a lot are also good indicators of who is speaking.  An example would be my friend up there who likes the word interesting.  I also has a cousin who's over usage of the word Egad rubbed off onto me.  Or we could look at my character Olin.  He refers to himself as This One.  So we automatically know, even without saying 'Olin says', that if there is speech with reference to This One, Olin is speaking.

And for those of us who actually have characters that speak other languages in our stories, it is good to indicate such with italics or symbols other than quotation marks.  That is, unless you plan on writing out the whole darned language yourself.  A few words here and there are fine but otherwise keep it simple.


Don't be afraid to ask for help.  Though most people in my life know nothing of my stories and characters, it doesn't stop me from getting 'help' from them.  Most of this comes in the form of listening to them when they talk and picking up on things they do and their personalities and traits and hobbies and annoying pen clicking and nail biting…

Of course, if you do have people around that are more than willing to spare some good ideas then don't hesitate to ask.  Before posting a chapter I onces asked someone, "Could you see Lle slapping someone?" her response was "If she's really angry, yeah." So I didn't delete the scene.  In fact, if I had, I think she would seem more Mary-Sue.  Odds are, Mary-Sue's only slap people, if at all, when they did something really bad.  Not for unconsciously insulting her.

And of course there are countless places on the web to look for help and advice.  Just listen with an open heart and take their criticism and jokes with a laugh and honest thought.  You never know, you just might come up with an unforgettable character because someone kept nagging at your under developed Naruto-syndrome meagledwarped 'unique' character who is also angst ridden because he has Naruto-syndrome and blah blah blah… Maybe he'll turn into Mr. Awesom Macho Shark who likes popsicles, apple turnovers, surf boards, volley ball, mermaids and is a little angst over his ill sister.

Details RULE!

Some advice that I've collected over the span of my short lifetime writting stories and failing epicly at first. I've learned from my own mistakes and from others willing to share advice and many tutorials, writting books and humerous logic. I hope this can help you with your lovely characters and how to make them seem more real and convincing.

Have fun and knock yourself out and remember that a well thought out character sheet can often be the difference between consistency and confusion(just like expression sheets for those of you more drawing prone)

One book I sugest if whether writting just a hobby or a career choice is Writting Magic by Gail Carson Levine. She is the author of Ella Enchanted and her book is filled with wonderful tips, tricks, and lovely humor and logic. It has done wonders for my writting, all around, not just characters.

Footnotes are isolated to sections. If you wish to find a footnote go to the end of the section you are reading.

Happy Brainstorming!

Add a Comment:
wow, that's a lot of work in there :D
but it came out wonderful :) If we all were to go through here while brainstorming our next character, they'd be preeeeetty close to perfect :heart:
I feel I need to say thankyou, all that work that went into it, it was worth it :)
LiquidLifeEternal Featured By Owner May 31, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
A lot of study, self improvement and observation went into this. And a bit of honesty. We must face our mistakes. I feel I left something out but I'll think of it later.

And your very welcome. I enjoy the work

And thankyou for the time you gave to comment *continues on with spam*
yes, yes we must...I know there are quite a few things I would like to change about my characters (thought Cherri's the only one on dA and not even my most used)...but I also don't want to change...I just want to start again...these already made characters (I think) should stay as I first created them...I'll make new and hopefully better ones in the future :)

yes, and here I go, replying with another long message XD
LiquidLifeEternal Featured By Owner Jun 1, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
As I said, mine start off poor but change as I get more concepts down. Pen and paper help too and also a good character sheet or two. Songs are wonderful inspirations. Even though I'm nearly an adult I still pretend to be my characters but mostly while listening to music, hence why it's so helpful.

Olin is evil... I think... To a degree...

Srry for random comment. If I were to tell the average person my (well developed) characters run rampant in my head I'd get some concerned looks.

I love me my spam ":music: We eat ham and jam and spam alot:music:"
LuvShadowTheHedgehog Featured By Owner Jun 2, 2011
ah, I definitely agree to the music...I tend to listen to video game music/music from movies lyrics, but emotions and all these situations come flooding with the melodies, harmonies,'s awesome :)
It's wonderful to pretend to be your characters, to put yourself into situations that they would face and how they would react to, I'm finishing high school in half a year XD

lol, everyone's got a little evil in them...just doesn't show up in them on the outside...

lol, no need for apologies...I can relate XD

ahh, spamness :D
LiquidLifeEternal Featured By Owner Jun 2, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Speaking of inspirational music [link] I fell in love with this song. It's so african and inspired quite a bit for many different things.

Sometimes it hard when I have to switch back and forth between characters because sometimes the first on leaks into the second and causes a mess. And I just finished and managed to pass Algebra II.

Olin scares me sometimes... manipulative little bugger... I think this dark side will become a little more aparent in Heritage. He also likes to make sarcastic remarks only Lle can hear.

Once, Miyako jumped at something in an rp she wasn't supposed to know because the chracter thought rather than spoke it. It was having to do with her already forgiving someone but a friend withheld information regarding that person because it might reverse her decision if she found out.
LuvShadowTheHedgehog Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2011
O: that song reminds of primary school so's the first song I ever did when I joined the school choir (3rd grade)...I fell in love with that song too :) it's absolutely wonderful :D

Ah yes...I quite like the mess though, makes it all that little bit more interesting XD ah, that's awesome :D here in australia math doesn't get broken it's just math as a whole...there's a choice of level though...there's 4 levels, 4 being highest...I used to take 3rd, but I dropped to 2nd, much, much easier :) My subjects are mostly science though...I literally spend half of school in the science labs XD

lol, he's a good character though...well, not good but in terms of...nevermind XD

ahh, the complications of knowing thoughts of others...
LiquidLifeEternal Featured By Owner Jul 1, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
wow... I forgot to reply to this... I think due to graduation stress...

The song is really pretty.

And that seems a bit more logical way of doing it. Sometimes here I feel we take classes we are never ever going to use later. It is so aggrivating. Thankfully that is all over now. I've graduated.

Lottie/Lle: My Lin Lin

True dat. But of course she can't read thoughts but the one in my head is privvy to all I think. The other day when mom was watching this show of someone killing a child she was screaming bloody murder... Scarey.
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